The Advanced Spacecraft Navigation and Timing using Celestial Gamma-Ray Sources concept is a novel relative navigation technology for deep-space exploration using measurements of celestial gamma-ray sources. This new Gamma-ray source Localization-Induced Navigation and Timing (GLINT) method incorporates existing designs of autonomous navigation technologies and merges these with the developing science of high-energy sensor components. This new enabling technology for interplanetary self-navigation could provide important mission enhancements to planned operational and discovery missions. It has the potential to decrease the overall operations cost of exploration missions by increasing the onboard navigation and guidance capabilities, and reducing the risk of uncertainty by providing these vehicles the freedom to explore those areas that are most interesting.

The concept provides a measure of relative position along the line of sight to a celestial source based upon the difference in the arrival time of the burst at the spacecraft’s location with respect to a reference location. This measurement can be computed at any location in the solar system and beyond, wherever the spacecraft and a reference station can detect the same burst and share their burst reception information. Therefore, with these ongoing bursts from all directions of the sky, navigation solutions can be continuously determined and updated while on interplanetary cruise or in orbit about a destination planetary body, including asteroids.

The GLINT technology presents significant performance enhancement and risk reduction over current navigation systems, and provides new capabilities to augment mission goals throughout the solar system. Gamma-ray detectors are currently found on almost all deep space missions, as well as science missions in Earth orbit. Many systems are continuing to actively collect photon data. While gamma-ray burst sources are non-repeating and nonperiodic, their flux intensities are much higher than most other high-energy celestial sources, providing well-defined temporal and morphological profile characteristics for time alignment. The GLINT system is implementable anywhere celestial gamma-ray sources can be detected, and these sources are typically detectable above cosmic background levels, as their peak intensities are detectable in the tens of keV to 1 GeV and higher energy bands.

This work was done by Suneel Sheikh and Chuck Hisamoto of ASTER Labs, Inc., and Zaven Arzoumanian for Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16737-1